The purpose of this study was to examine cultural influences on shame. In particular, the focus was to assess the influence of the following factors on the object of shame (specifically, personal vs. vicarious shame): (1) the effect of individualism/collectivism, measured by a widely used standardized measurement; (2) the role of tightness/looseness (based on ecological factors); and (3) the patterns of within- and between-cultural differences and similarities. Data were collected from two American and two Japanese universities to test within- and between-cultural influences on the object of shame. Participants were asked to describe and rate three autobiographical experiences of shame, with each successive request being increasingly specific in asking for shame about something for which the participant did not feel responsible. Cultural differences in tightness and looseness, both within and between the two nations, were predictive of the likelihood that participants would report vicarious shame. In contrast, standard measures of individualism-collectivism did not predict these differences. These findings suggest that culture affects the object of shame. However, in contrast to our hypothesis, attitudinal measures of individualism/collectivism were not a significant predictor. Rather, tightness/looseness determined by ecological factors was the better predictor of some cultural differences on the object of shame. Furthermore, these findings imply that attitudinal measures of individualism/collectivism may not agree with ecological measures, and that including multiple samples from each language/nation effectively reduces the confound between culture and language.
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